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WSOP Insights: Restoring Honor Amongst Thieves

Poker lawyer Mac Verstandig
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  • .@mac_verstandig: "WSOP Insights: Restoring Honor Amongst Thieves"

  • Too few are the players not owed money by – or themselves indebted to – a fellow grinder.

Maurice “Mac” VerStandig is the managing partner of the VerStandig Law Firm, LLC, and focuses his practice on representing poker players, advantage gamblers, and other industry professionals in all manner of legal situations. He can be reached at 301-444-4600, or mac@mbvesq.com.

Too few are the poker players not owed money by – or themselves indebted to – a fellow grinder. And while the extension of credit in the form of cash, chips, tiles, and otherwise has long been a core function of poker’s liquidity, a tradition originally checked by the harshness of self-help remedies in the boxcar days of open carry saloons, struggles to find an identity amongst modern times.

Ideally, every gaming loan will be evidenced by a promissory note, executed away from a casino’s corridors.

In the absence of pistol whippings, judicial recourse has become the preferred collection methodology. Yet myriad states will not so much as dignify any debt having its origin in a gaming parlor, and in the venues where one could potentially bring suit on a card table IOU, myriad legal obstacles render such efforts increasingly ill-fated.

Critically, though, not all obligations originating between colleagues on the felt are built equally. And should funds ultimately go unpaid, certain key tactical efforts can help transform the sort of obligation too gnarly for judicial dignity into one capable of fetching a judgment.

Ideally, every gaming loan will be evidenced by a promissory note, executed away from a casino’s corridors, with witnesses eager to retell their stories of the ministerial proceeding. But idealism and reality rarely intersect around card rooms, and it thus pays to be aware of the various efforts which may help ensure – but certainly not guarantee – collectability of a gaming debt.

  1. When extending credit, look to make a contemporaneous record and have the individual to whom you are shoveling chips affirmatively verify that record. A text message acknowledging core loan terms (amount, interest, due date) is no substitute for a sealed legal document, but it will be amply more versatile in court than a soft verbal affirmation or passive nod of the head. And no, a handshake is not a close substitute; the firm grasp of a sweaty palm may be of some ceremonial import, but it is ultimately of little more legal impact than spitting twice and thrusting salt over a shoulder.

  2. Be mindful that if you may ultimately look to counsel to collect a debt, the debt needs to be legal. So you need to pinpoint an interest rate that conforms to usury laws, not settle on a computation of juice that would make your neighborhood shylock proud. Not only will a court decline to honor your playfully constructed terms of twenty percent a week until paid, but in electing whether or not to even honor the underlying principal that may well be the term which gives a judge cause to discard your whole case as too fundamentally repugnant to jurisprudential norms.

  3. Be smart in how you endeavor to collect. The e-mails, texts, and other communications you send can – and likely will – be used against you before your claim is etched into a judgment register. So while you need not feign compliance with the more odious debt collection laws since tableside loans are far from consumer fodder, you also want to be careful to avoid even the softest implication of violence, the most fleeting reference to drugs, or any insinuation of extortionary motives.

  4. When extending credit, do so on monetary terms. Cash is better than chips, and chips are better than comps, but any of these are superior to the complexities of a contingent staked upside in the borrower’s play, discounted odds on a running prop bet, or a dime bag of anything that would make Nancy Reagan recoil. It is difficult enough to convince a court to uphold the perceptively unseemly dealings of poker’s underground economy; giving a judge additional cause to wince, shudder, or narrowly squint is never a good idea.

  5. If and when you find the debt to be otherwise uncollectible, let a lawyer guide you through the court process. The felt and the rail are about as far from the bench and the bar as society allows one to wander outside the cold clasp of shackles, and some interpretive work is needed to bridge that divide.

there are plenty of attorneys across the country who can rather adeptly come to your aid.

Yes, this is my elective trade and, yes, the VerStandig Law Firm may well be interested in taking on your case, but even if you find my mannerisms offensive or my colleagues’ legal bona fides suspect, there are plenty of attorneys across the country who can rather adeptly come to your aid – and normally without charging anything up front on a matter of this variety.

Of course, the safest route is to simply honor Polonius’ sage guidance, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be / For loan oft loses both itself and friend / And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”

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